John Johnson, a key investigator in the Curtis Flowers case, refused numerous interview requests from "In the Dark." In fact, the only time we ever saw Johnson during a year of reporting in Mississippi was when he was invited on stage to sing with Benny Rigby's band at The Pizza Inn in Winona. After his performance, he slipped out a back exit. We never got to ask him why he investigated the Flowers case the way he did.
The most extensive record of Johnson talking about his work comes from a sworn deposition he gave in 1978 after he was sued in federal court. The plaintiff in the case was a white Winona man named Lonnie Blaylock, who alleged that Johnson had knocked him to the ground late one night outside a coffee shop, then kicked him in the head and stepped on his throat. Johnson then dragged Blaylock toward his police cruiser, the suit said, twisted his arm, pulled his hair and punched him again. The City of Winona settled the suit for $1,000.
In his deposition, Johnson said he encountered a drunk Blaylock in the cafe and asked him to step outside. Once outside, Johnson tried to grab Blaylock's arm — he said he was planning to arrest Blaylock.
"Just reached to get him," Blaylock's lawyer said. "Is that correct police procedure?"
"I don't know," Johnson replied, "but in a small town in a community where you know everybody, I'm sure the procedures are not what they would be in a larger town."
Blaylock drew his arm away, making Johnson think he was going to hit him. So Johnson punched him, according to the deposition.
"He bumped the glass on the restaurant and fell to the ground," Johnson said in the deposition.
Johnson said he punched Blaylock again, in the mouth, as Johnson was trying to put him in a police cruiser.
"He never did hit you," Blaylock's lawyer said.
"He never did," Johnson confirmed.
From the deposition, we also learn a bit more about Johnson's background. He was 28 at the time and had been a cop on and off for five years.
Johnson said he had graduated from Winona High School in 1968. After that, he'd spent two semesters in night school at a junior college and five weeks in the state law enforcement academy. Then he worked at his father's service station for several years before he joined the Winona Police Department.
The Winona Times, announcing Johnson's hire in September 1972, wrote, "Mayor Fred Watts, in outlining the young man's qualifications, noted that he holds a first degree black belt in karate."
Johnson lasted less than a year at the department. "I terminated myself," he said in the deposition. "I had a political disagreement with the mayor." Johnson went back to work for his father.
A year or so later, he got a job at the nearby Grenada Police Department, where Doug Evans was working. Johnson left the Grenada force after a short time and returned to Winona.
Blaylock's lawyer asked Johnson about his time in Grenada.
A month after his October 1976 run-in with Lonnie Blaylock, Johnson quit the Winona police for a second time. Asked by Blaylock's attorney why he left the force, Johnson said, "Well, it seemed to me that law enforcement was just too much of a hassle."
Johnson would return to the Winona Police Department for a third time, in 1979, and rise through the ranks to become chief of police. Twelve years later, after Doug Evans was elected district attorney, John Johnson would be one of his first hires.